EXCERPT: 'The Kids Are All Right'

Up until that day, I had been trying to lose weight by walking the four miles to school and eating only every other day. I wasn't obese, but I was fat compared to other kids. I mean: I had to rip the lining out of those leather pants because I couldn't get my fat thighs in them otherwise. It was Mom who taught me to make up my own hare-brained diet schemes. I was seven when she first brought me to Weight Watchers. By the time I was a high school junior, we were doing the Shaklee diet together because Mom was out of work and started selling the disgusting meal- replacement shakes. I flavored mine with maple syrup extract and ended up smelling like pancakes for the entire semester.

Then, the day Dad died, food was dropped off on the hour, like, whole baked hams and ziti, just casserole dish after casserole dish. There was food everywhere. And I thought that was so funny, like, what, our dad died so we're not going to eat? Nobody's going to open the refrigerator? But I guess they just wanted to do something. Anyway, when I came home from school that afternoon, I ate an entire pineapple upside- down cake. It was the best thing I had ever eaten in my life.

DAN I didn't go to school for the longest out of everybody; I just hung around the house for about a week. It felt big and lonely even though there were all these people coming over to say they were sorry. Then my friends Curtis and Jeremy came over after school one day. We stood in the driveway, right in front of the house. It was awkward. We were only eleven and we didn't really know what to say to each other, so we just hung out. But it was really nice of them to come.

When I did go back to school, some kid made a joke about my father being dead and I started crying in class. Curtis stood up and hit the kid. And that felt good, seeing him do that for me. It made me feel less alone.

LIZ Amanda wound up wearing her leather pants to the wake. I wore my gray Gunne Sax dress and sat in a folding chair, cocooned by seven or eight girlfriends who had pulled their chairs around me. Their eyes were fixed on me, but mine were set on the coffin, only ten feet away. Mom thought I was too young to wear black, but I guess she figured I was old enough to help her pick out Dad's coffin.

Just the day before, I sat in the undertaker's wood- paneled office listening as Mom answered a series of questions. A man in a dark suit and white starched shirt sat behind a large desk and wrote her answers on a clipboard.

"Do you want him cremated?" the man asked.

"Do you have a funeral plot?"

"Will it be a religious wake?"

"How many people do you expect?"

"Do you want an open or a closed casket?"

Mom sat straight up in her seat and cocked her head to one side, confused. Now I understood why she brought me along. This man might as well have been speaking Cantonese. This was a new role for her: Dad was the one who handled practical things. He paid all the bills, filled out all the forms, hired the handymen. So she answered each question hesitantly, with a shaky voice, her bottom lip quivering.

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